June 20, 2018

IntelBrief: The Age of Displacement 

Yazidi refugee Samir Qasu, 45, right, from Sinjar, Iraq, and his wife Bessi, 42, cry while embracing their children, Dunia, 13, and Dildar, 10, shortly after arriving on a vessel from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) .
  • A UNHCR report released on June 19 showed that 68.5 million people were displaced as of the end of 2017, the sixth consecutive year of post-WWII record-setting numbers.
  • Collectively the numbers are staggering and individually they are devastating: an estimated 44,500 people are forcibly displaced every day.
  • The rise in displaced people, including refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons, is among the greatest of our global challenges.
  • Anti-refugee and anti-immigration policies with overtly racist overtones are on the rise in the U.S. and across Europe.


This week, United States citizens and their politicians are fiercely debating the Trump administration’s actions separating children from parents who enter the country illegally. That debate is happening at a time when the issue of refugees—and of immigration in general—has exploded globally. Nativist sentiment arguing against the acceptance of refugees and migrants is present not just in the U.S., but across Europe as well.

The scale of the global refugee crisis, driving the larger debate about immigration, at least in Europe, is difficult to overstate. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the U.N.’s refugee agency, released its annual Global Trends Report for 2017. The report notes that for the sixth consecutive year, the number of people displaced from their homes is at a new high. The report stated that an estimated 68.5 million people were displaced as of 2017, which includes refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who stay inside their countries but are forced to move from their homes. 25.4 million of the total 68.5 million were refugees, an increase of 2.9 million – the largest single-year increase in the global total of refugees ever recorded. IDPs are the largest total number of people who have been displaced, with 40 million forced to abandon their homes in their countries. There were also 3.1 million asylum seekers in 2017, an increase of 300,000.

UNHCR notes that while 1 out of every 110 persons on earth is now displaced in some sense of the term, the problem is unequally distributed around the world. A full 20% of the 68.5 million displaced persons under UNHCR are Palestinians; the remaining two-thirds hail from five countries: Syria,Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia, according to the report. The report goes on to add that an ‘end to conflict in any one of these has potential to significantly influence the wider global displacement picture’ – though no relief is in sight for these persistent conflict-affected areas.

While the numbers of the displaced are rising, the number of countries actively accepting refugees and migrants is shrinking. UNHCR reports that ‘63 percent of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility were in just 10 countries.’ Turkey is helping the most refugees based on total numbers, while Lebanon is protecting the most based on a per capita analysis. The report authors have sought to highlight the concentrated nature of the crisis with the hopes of bringing facts to bear on the narrative around the issue, as this age of displacement has given rise to the return of nativism and overt anti-immigrant sentiments and policies, especially in the U.S. and Europe.


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